Can kids go to school AND follow their interests?

Thanks for sticking with me on my prolonged post series answering questions from a reader: Zoemaster. Sorry it’s taking me a little longer to get through them than I intended. I’m also in the process of starting a new school, so blog writing is often lower on my list of priorities. If you want to read posts one, two and three, click on the links. The next question from Zoemaster is:

4) Can’t children go to a public school and isn’t it the parents’ job to nurture curiosity and exploration above and beyond school?

This is what many parents strive to do, with great intentions.  The problem is, there are only so many hours in the day. High school kids go to school for seven hours a day, then often have band or sports practice for two to three hours after school, come home around 6 or 7, eat dinner, start homework and finish around bedtime. Then they get up to do it all again the next day. If they are sports players, they usually have additional practice and games on weekends. If not, their weekends are taken up with family activities, more homework, or what adults think of as being “lazy.” (In reality, they just need a break or are pursuing their interests, but those interests are not valued by their parents. More on this in a future post.)

If parents try to “nurture curiosity and exploration,” they often go about it in a pushy way, and kids resist it. Many parents have a “you must play one instrument and one sport” rule. Or, “if you start something, you have to finish it, even if you hate it” rule.  This is tantamount to more coercive education and does little to actually pique the child’s interest. I believe that curiosity and the desire to explore are basic human functions. Children (and adults) do this automatically, without having to be nurtured towards that. In reality, our main role is to not get in the way, or try to push our own agenda.

Many parents can nod along with that last paragraph, but they put on the breaks with the final sentence. It’s difficult for parents to give up control of what their child learns. They may feel comfortable with it for one child, who loves to read and play the violin, but then would not allow it for another child who wants to play basketball and Dungeons and Dragons. When you give up control, and allow kids to explore, you can’t set limits on what they explore (well, except perhaps in the area of propriety).

Unschoolers have a term: strewing. This is the act of placing books, DVDs, CDs, computer programs around the house, so that it’s available for the students to pick and explore.  To me, this is basically living life. You can do this on purpose, or you can just live your life with interesting resources around you and see what your kids gravitate towards.

But, does it work in conjunction with compulsory schooling? I don’t think so. Kids need down time in order to explore their interests. Their brains need a break before they can throw their energy into something they love. But, we don’t give them a break.  Our kids are over-scheduled. They have very little free time, and what time they do have, they have to use for recuperation.  The first thing that is sacrificed in this struggle for time, is exactly what our students want to spend more time doing.  And they, along with our society as a whole, are suffering for it.

Up next: The big worry: What if they just want to watch TV all day?

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